CL Preview: Rubin Kazan – Barça, Wednesday 12:30pmEST, Fox Soccer/FSE
Reading the history of Kazan it quickly becomes obvious that the city is prone to being reduced to rubble. Fires and wars were the typical culprits, but Ivan the terrible massacred most of the population and then sent the rest of the Tatars to live a couple of dozen miles away. Basically, this is a resilient city. In the US, we talk about Mrs O’Leary’s cow burning down Chicago an it’s pretty amazing that it survived like it did; the 1909 San Francisco earthquake was devastating, of course, and the Dresden firebombing was awful, but those things only happened once. Kazan’s destruction happened at least five times. No wonder they’re able to consider simply going to Barcelona and winning a match par for the course.
Because of all that, I say we torch the place–they won’t mind that much since they’re used to this sort of treatment from outside invaders, right? Seriously, come on, it’s not that big a deal if we pull the ring trick from Leon The Professional on them, right? Except without our death too, cause that would be friggin’ pointless.
We’re coming off a disappointing draw with Osasuna, which we had all wrapped up until a 93rd minute own goal dragged us back down from the lofty heights of Winnersville into the middling suburbs of Dawerton. Since we obviously don’t want to get shoved into the hickish wilds in or around Loserburg, I’m going to guess that we’re going to bring the fire-breathing craziness to the Russian winter.
Speaking of: I don’t know where you’re from. I don’t know what you’re used to. What do know is that I live in a part of the world where it can get down to -20F with wind chill. I also know that the average high for Kazan, Russia is 29F (-1.5C) and the average low is 21F (-6.3C). That’s cold, yes, I realize that, especially if you’re from Barcelona and used to the Mediterranean temperatures, but it’s not that cold. No offense, but saying “below zero temperatures” doesn’t make me think of the above-pictured ice storm. The above-pictured ice storm makes me think of ice storms. It’s not going to be fun to play in sub-freezing conditions, but with a heated field and some decent long johns I think the boys will be okay. And they can have themselves some nice hot cocoa after the match to warm them up…and yes, Bojan can have the mini marshmallows we all know he loves. Plus, as Guardiola himself said in a press conference: “I’m sure my players will run fast, otherwise they will freeze.”
But just in case the boys do feel the cold, they might want to take a look at this page to see if it has the references they’re looking for. I mean, why take risks with your large fortunes just because having three or four Russian honeys as a comforter is fun? Know what you’re getting into, I always say. The temperature tomorrow evening/night, according to Weather Underground, will be a bit below average (24F), but with higher humidity and no expected precipitation of any kind, it shouldn’t be all that bad. They have to play in that weather too, after all.
What’s far more troubling than the cold, to me, is that the grass on the field is going to be longer than we’re used to. I don’t know if that’s just how they roll in Russia or if they decided to grow it longer for our sake, but longer grass means legs get more tired and balls don’t roll as well. I don’t know what our players prefer, to be honest, but I imagine it’s not the grass that slows things to a crawl because our dribbling moves need to be made at lightning speed and the long-term wear on the legs from longer grass is pretty intense sometimes.
I imagine that they’ll come after us in the same manner that they came after us in the Camp Nou since it worked so damned well the first time. What we need to do is take the same approach as well, but finish our chances. They may or may not slightly change their formation since MacBeth Sebaya is now available after a suspension, but we’ll have to wait to find out. I expect the same ideas, if a slightly different lineup.
From our side, we’ve got Alves and Henry back and I expect both of them to start. Because of his excellent start to the season, it seems harsh to bench Keita in favor of a striker coming off of injury, but because they mainly play through the middle and then go into a defensive sell with a double pivot, I see Iniesta’s ball-control abilities as more important than Keita’s counter-attack-stopping abilities. What I mean is, I think that Henry’s quickness up front on the left will help us more than Iniesta’s shiftiness. We need to get into position and take shots, not merely control the ball and attempt to walk it into the net. Henry, I think will allow us both width and incisiveness while Iniesta’s role in the center of the field will give us the requisite on-the-ball dominance that will tell over time.
We have no one injured from our squad list, so here’s my projected lineup: Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Pique, Abidal, The Yaya, Xavi, Iniesta, Henry, Ibra, Messi. We go all out from the start with Keita and Pedro! coming in during the middle of the second half for Henry and Iniesta respectively. Having Henry start on the bench might be smart too, of course, but I’d rather get him going from the beginning and have him wear down the opponents for Pedro! to come on rather than the other way around because neither Pedro! nor Iniesta are capable of imposing the physical load on the defender that Henry is.
But this is a serious match with serious consequences if we don’t get out without a point. Inter host Dynamo in the other group fixture and while I’ll be rooting for another draw in that one alongside a win from us, what’s imperative is that no matter what, we need at least one point from this. If we don’t get that point, that puts Rubin top of the group and us looking up from here on out. A draw would at least ensure that we were second at worst and possibly would remain first with two matches left were Inter and Dynamo to draw. In order to win this match, we need to score some goals, rather than pussyfoot the ball around and give up silly counters. That means Iniesta’s abilities in the midfield will be enormous as he gets the ball from our defense to our attacking third while maintaining a shape behind him.
Official prediction: 1-2, Barça wins with goals from Messi and Ibra. There’s just no way to keep a good team down after the frustration of getting your league kisser punched (almost literally by Valdes) right at the death. Get hyped and bring it.
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This match will be available on Fox Soccer and Fox Sports en Español in the United States.